Hawkers of Liberty

A few days ago, I attended the anti-corruption protest rally spearheaded by Anna Hazare at Ramlila Grounds in Delhi. Anna used the Gandhian tools of Satyagraha (truth force) and a fast-unto-death to help change how the government governs itself. Some say this is coercion, while others say this is India’s last hope of redeeming itself as a great nation. Either way, Delhi has rarely witnessed such a large gathering of crowds — certainly not since the freedom movement. The crowds rose in number as the days of Anna’s fast increased and as the government refused to budge. They came from all sections of society and from not only Delhi but from all of India.

Before visiting the grounds, I had already known that there would be hoards of people, but the experience of being there in person was quite amazing. Never have I seen so many flags being waved around, which, has been made possible thanks to the efforts of the Naveen Jindal, Member of Parliament, a few years ago. Until then waving our own national flag was prohibited by private citizens!

The atmosphere felt like what it must have, during India’s Freedom Movement. People were very polite and apologized if they bumped into you. A group of young men, offered me some snacks and refused to take money even though they seemed poor.

I noticed a group of college students jump onto a passing bullock cart and started waiving the national flag when suddenly one flag slipped out of one of their hands. A man on a motorbike, stopped his bike and picked up the flag and rode on to and handed it back to the group. I found this kind of bhai-chaara or brotherhood, amazing and not commonly seen in today’s India. There was a spirit of being all in it together which I didn’t sense from watching it on TV.

However, what surprised and impressed me the most, was the amazing spirit of Indian entrepreneurship which took shape near the grounds. Hundreds of street vendors and hawkers were offering all kinds of services such as painting one’s face in the tricolor and selling custom-made souvenirs suited to the occasion — such as the now ubiquitous Anna Hazare Gandhi topees (caps), flags, banners, pins, wristbands and more! The spirit of entrepreneurship was hand in hand with the spirit of protest, which I found tantalizing.

If we in India manage to balance a deal where the government and people play a responsible role as equal partners — where the government doesn’t get too powerful nor do the people — and we stay between tyranny and anarchy, then indeed India would be in my mind, a great country.

Stop Press!
As of last night, the government has relented and decided to go ahead and implement the Jan Lokpal Bill. Anna Hazare is due to break his fast on Sunday morning (August 28).

2 thoughts on “Hawkers of Liberty

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    1. The wristbands merely represented the tricolor. Their graphic and compact form worked well when people raised their fists. What’s interesting is that unlike flags, they’re not associated with protests. However, whoever came up with the idea was smart since they were cheap and the young college students loved them — they were as popular as the Gandhi cap.

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